Today’s News & Commentary — January 31, 2017

2017 could be a tough year for labor unions at the state level.  According to NPR, Kentucky has become the nations’s 27th “right-to-work” state, and Missouri and New Hampshire could join it in February.  New Hampshire would become the first “right-to-work” state in the Northeast.  Advocates in New Hampshire claim that “right-to-work” will entice businesses to relocate to the state, while opponents assert that “right-to-work” creates free rider problems and constitutes political reprisal against unions for supporting Democrats.

At the federal level, things might not be much better.  The Washington Examiner reports that two Republicans will introduce national “right-to-work” legislation tomorrow.  President Trump’s purported support has “right-to-work” advocates optimistic, despite previous failures in Congress.

With respect to President Trump’s agenda, unions are prepared to fight.  Per Bloomberg BNA, “labor groups representing immigrants, women, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans vowed collective action against President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington Jan. 27” and “[Representatives from AFL-CIO constituency groups] promised grass-roots organizing with regional union chapters to protect immigrants and union workers and to ensure sanctuary cities remain.”

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — July 5, 2016

A bill has been introduced to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act – to exclude poorly-paid minor league baseball players from its protections.  The “Save America’s Pastime Act” would clarify the FLSA to explicitly state that minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to “any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the minor league level.”  According to Above The Law, the Act is a response to a federal lawsuit proposed as a class action that alleges minor league baseball salaries violate the FLSA.  Notably, “Starting pay for minor leaguers is between $1,100 and $2,150 a month, and only during the season” despite year-round conditioning and training requirements.

As the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) becomes a sensitive campaign issue, Labor Secretary and potential Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tom  Perez continues to defend his role in creating it while not saying if he supports it.  The Hill reports that Secretary Perez defended his work on the TPP but “dodged pointed questions about whether or not he personally supports the TPP.”  Secretary Perez also defended the TPP’s enforcement provisions and putting American workers first, stating “If we’re going to succeed in protecting American workers, we’ve got to make sure we have tough, enforceable provisions.  And that’s what I’ve done.”

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 15, 2016

Bernie Sanders has scored another surprise victory in securing some of the support of the labor movement.  The Huffington Post reports that the Amalgamated Transit Union officially endorsed Sanders for president after having “carried out a careful and deliberative process with union members before deciding to side with Sanders.”  While Hilary Clinton has been endorsed by most  major national unions, the ATU has been joined by the Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United, and the American Postal Workers Union in endorsing Sanders.  The AFL-CIO has yet to endorse a candidate.

The new labor contract which averted a major transit strike in New Jersey was very worker-friendly.  According to The Record, NJ Transit’s 4,200 rail workers obtained “retroactive pay, steady salary increases and a firm cap on employees’ health insurance costs,” while “the only point NJ Transit won is an agreement to extend the new contract through the end of 2019, a year and a half longer than the unions had requested.”  The terms are similar to those proposed by emergency boards convened by President Obama to help avert the strike.  NJ Transit’s 11 rail unions will not vote on the contract, and 51 percent of them need to approve for it to take effect.  A strike would have made commuting into New York City from New Jersey near-impossible and thus come at significant cost to the New York-New Jersey economy.

While many recent disputes between sports leagues and player unions have played out in the public eye, the union representing baseball players hopes to continue a record of labor peace.  FOX Sports notes that Major League Baseball Player’s Association Tony Clark expects peaceful negotiations with Major League Baseball over a new collective bargaining agreement.  The current CBA expires on December 1.  In the interview, Clark discussed negotiations, “the length of the regular season, the new second-base slide rule, qualifying contract offers, one-game playoff series and teams tanking games for more draft pool money.”

Continue reading

Today’s News and Commentary — March 26

A labor dispute between a state regulator, a shipping association, and the longshoremen’s union in New York Harbor has escalated to federal court, the Wall Street Journal reports. On one side of the fight is the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which was formed in 1953 to root out mob influence and is responsible for overseeing the waterfront industry’s hiring plan, which mandates that 51% of employees be returning military veterans. On the other side are the New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association, which have sued in New Jersey district court alleging that the commission is slowing the pace of hiring so dramatically that there is a shortage of up to 800 workers at the port, driving up costs and leading some firms to move business elsewhere. For its part, the commission blames the waterfront industry for lagging behind on “sponsorship forms” for prospective employees while mostly training their own referrals instead of relying on veterans.

On the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, Emily Badger reports that the federal minimum wage has not only failed to keep pace with inflation, but in many cities it has also failed to keep up with rent. Citing a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Badger notes that a Washington D.C. worker would need a $28.25-per-hour wage to support a modest 2-bedroom apartment; alternatively, the worker could work 137 hours per week on the current $8.25 minimum wage in D.C. USA Today has a chart of how many minimum-wage hours workers in each state would need to afford a similar 2-bedroom apartment; the numbers range from lows in Montana (69), Ohio (70), and Kentucky (70) to highs in California (130), D.C. (137), Maryland (138), and Hawaii (174). The L.A. Times reports that the single most-expensive market is the San Francisco Bay Area, where a worker would need a $37.62-per-hour wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled legislature is expected to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which would give the state the highest minimum wage in the United States.

Congressional Democrats plan to propose and advance a series of bills affecting “pocketbook” issues in the next few weeks — such as a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and another bill to boost federal-worker pay by 3.3 percent next year — the New York Times and Washington Post report. The Times suggests that the planned votes are part of a plan to reverse the Republican momentum that threatens their control of the Senate, as the votes will be timed to coincide with campaign-style trips by President Obama. The Times also notes that the proposals have little chance of passing, but Democrats simply want to force Republican lawmakers to vote against them. In the Wall Street Journal, Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, criticizes a related proposal: President Obama’s recent order directing the Labor Department to expand the class of employees entitled to overtime pay. Puzder argues that any increased overtime wages for managers “has to come from somewhere, most likely from reduced hours, reduced salaries or reduced bonuses” — all of which will hurt the very managers President Obama intends to help.

Continue reading

This Weekend’s News and Commentary — October 26-27

The long-term unemployment rate — the percentage of the labor force that has been out of work for more than a year and is still seeking employment — is down to 1.9 percent, the New York Times reports. While this is down from a peak of 3 percent in 2010, the figure is still higher than any period before 2009. It suggests that there are now more people who have been out of work for a year than there are who have been out of work for four weeks or less — a pattern that until 2009 had not happened since World War II.

The Labor Department is investigating the pay practices of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins, reports the Wall Street Journal. The nature of the inquiry is unclear, although a representative for the Giants suggests that the Labor Department is interested in the organization’s internship program, which used to pay students with monthly stipends but now pays them at or above minimum wage.

Also in California, a federal judge has granted class-action status to a lawsuit that alleges Apple, Google, Intel, and Pixar illegally suppressed wages by conspiring not to poach one another’s employees, the L.A. Times reports. The litigation has uncovered messages such as a 2007 email between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt in which Jobs said he “would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop” recruiting an Apple engineer. The case is In re: High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, before Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California.

Continue reading